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True Words for Brave Men, 25 - BRAVE WORDS FOR BRAVE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS

By Charles Kingsley


      My friends,--I speak to you simply as brave men. {199} I speak alike to Roman Catholic and Protestant. I speak alike to godly men and ungodly. I speak alike to soldiers and sailors. . . . If you are brave, read these words. I call these brave words. They are not my own words, or my own message, but the message to you of the bravest man who ever lived, or who ever will live, and if you will read them and think over them, He will not make you brave (for that, thank God, you are already), but keep you brave, come victory or defeat. I speak to the brave men who have now fought three bloody battles, and fought them like heroes. All England has blessed you, and admired you; all England has felt for you in a way that would do your hearts good to see. For you know as well as I, that nothing is so comforting, nothing so endearing, as sympathy, as to know that people feel for one. If one knows that, one can dare and do anything. If one feels that nobody cares for one's suffering or one's success, one is ready to lie down and die. It is so with a horse or a dog even. If there is any noble spirit in them, a word of encouragement will make them go till they drop. How much more will the spirit of a man? I can well believe that the Queen's beautiful letter put more heart into you, than the hope of all the prize money in the world would have done; and that with the words of that letter ringing in your ears, you will prove true to the last, to the words of the grand old song--

      "Hearts of oak are our ships, hearts of oak are our men,
      And we'll fight, and we'll conquer again, and again."

      But, my friends, you know as well as I, that there are times when neither that letter, nor the feeling of duty, nor of honour, nor of glory, can keep your hearts from sinking. Not in battle! No. Only cowards' hearts fail them there; and there are no cowards among you. But even a brave man's heart may fail him at whiles, when, instead of the enemy's balls and bayonets, he has to face delay, and disappointment, and fatigue, and sickness, and hunger, and cold, and nakedness; as you have, my brave brothers, and faced them as well as man ever did on earth. Ah! it must be fearful work to sit still, and shiver and starve in a foreign land, and to think of those who are in comfort and plenty at home; and worse, to think of those, who, even if they are in plenty, cannot be in comfort, because their hearts are breaking for your sake; to think of brother and sister, wife and child, while you are pacing up and down those dreary trenches, waiting for your turn of sickness, perhaps of death. It must be bitter and disheartening at times; you would not be men, if it was not. One minute, perhaps, you remember that those whom you have left at home, love you and pray for you; and that cheers you; then you remember that all England loves you, and prays for you in every church throughout the land; and that cheers you; but even that is not enough, you feel ready to say, "What is the use of my going through all this misery? Why am I not at home ploughing the ground, or keeping a shop, anything rather than throwing away my life by inches thus. My people at home feel for me, but they cannot know, they never will know, the half of what I have gone through. The nation will provide for me if I am crippled, but they cannot make up to me for losing the best years of my life in such work as this; and, if I am killed, can they make up to me for that? Who can make up to me for my life?"

      Have you not had such thoughts, my friends, and sadder thoughts still lately? You need not be ashamed of them if you have. For hard work you have had, and it must have told at times on your spirits as heavily as it has on your bodies.

      But, my friends, there is an answer for these sad thoughts. There are brave words for you, and a noble message from God, which will cheer you when nothing else can cheer you. If your own people cannot know all that you go through, there is One who can and does; if your own wives and mothers cannot feel enough for you, there is One above who does, and He is the Lord Jesus Christ. You have hungered; so has He. You have been weary; so has He. You have felt cold and nakedness; so has He. You have been houseless and sleepless, so has He. While the foxes had holes, and the birds of the air had nests, He, the maker of them all, had not where to lay His head. You have felt the misery of loneliness and desolation; but never so much as did He, when not only every earthly friend forsook Him and fled, but He cried out in His very death pangs, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?"

      Above all, you have felt how difficult it was to die, not fighting sword in hand, but slowly and idly, and helplessly, by cholera or fever, hunger or cold. Terrible it is; but the Lord Jesus Christ has felt that too. For three years He looked death in the face--a death of shame and misery such as you can never die--and faced it, and gave Himself up to it of His own free will; and though He had the most horrible fear of it to the very last, He determined to submit to it, in spite of His own fear of it; and He did submit to it, and died, and so showed, even in His very fear, the most perfect and glorious courage. So if any one of you has ever felt for a single moment afraid; even in that, the Lord Jesus Christ can feel for you; for He, too, has gone through the agony of fear, when His sweat was as great drops of blood falling to the ground, that He might be able to help you, and every man that is tempted, because He can be touched with the feeling of your infirmities, having gone through every temptation which flesh is heir to, and conquered them all.

      This, then, is one half (and only one half) of my good news; that you have a Friend in heaven who feels for every trouble of yours, better than your own mothers can feel for you, because He has been through it all already; you have a Friend in heaven who is praying for you day and night, more earnestly, lovingly, wisely, than your own wives and children are praying for you. But that is not all. God forbid! You have a Friend in heaven, for whose sake God will forgive you all your sins and weaknesses, as often as you heartily confess them to Him, and trust in Him for a full and free pardon. You have a Friend in heaven who will help you day by day, where you most need help, in your hearts and spirits; who will give you, if you ask Him, His Spirit, the same spirit of duty, courage, endurance, love, self-sacrifice, which made Him brave to endure ten thousand times more than any soldier or sailor can endure, for the sake of doing His Father's will, and saving a ruined world.

      Oh! open your hearts to Him, my brave men, in your lonely night-watches--on your sick beds; ay, in the very roar of battle itself, ask Him to make you true and good, patient, calm, prudent, honourable, obedient, gentle, even in the hottest of the fight. Commit to Him your own lives and fortunes, and the lives and fortunes of those who have been left at home, and be sure that He, your Unseen Friend of friends, is able and willing to help to the uttermost all that you put into His charge.

      But, again, my men, if the nation cannot reward you for sacrificing your life in a just war, there is One above who can, and who will, too; for He is as just as He is loving, and as loving as He is just, and that is the same of whom I have spoken already, the Lord Jesus Christ.

      I think some of you will fancy this almost too good news to be true, and yet the very news which you want to hear. I think some of you have been saying as you read this, "All this is blessed and comforting news for poor fellows lying wounded in a hospital, or fretting their souls away about the wives and children they have left behind; blessed and comforting news; but we want something more than that even. We have to fight and to kill; we want to be sure that God's blessing is on our fighting and our killing; we have to go into battle; and we want to know that there, too, we are doing God's work, and to be sure that God is on our side."

      Well, my brave men, Be sure of it then! Be sure that God's blessing is as much upon you; be sure that you are doing God's work, as much when you are handling a musket or laying a gun in your country's battles, as when you are bearing frost and hunger in the trenches, and pain and weakness on a sick bed.

      For the Lord Jesus Christ is not only the Prince of Peace; He is the Prince of War too. He is the Lord of Hosts, the God of armies; and whosoever fights in a just war, against tyrants and oppressors, he is fighting on Christ's side, and Christ is fighting on his side; Christ is his Captain and his Leader, and he can be in no better service. Be sure of it; for the Bible tells you so. The old wars of Abraham against the robber-kings; of Joshua against the Canaanites; of David against the Philistines; of Hezekiah against the Assyrians; of the Maccabees against the Greeks--all tell the soldier the same brave news, that he is doing God's work, and that God's blessing is on him, when he fights in a just cause. And you are fighting in a just cause, if you are fighting for freedom and law. If to you God gives the noble work of fighting for the liberty of Europe, God will reward you according as you do that work like men. You will be fighting in that everlasting war which is in heaven; in God's everlasting war against all injustice and wrong, the Captain and Leader whereof is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Believe that--for the Bible tells it you. You must think of the Lord Jesus Christ, not merely as a sufferer, but as a warrior; not merely as the Man of Sorrows (blessed as that thought is), but as the Lord of Hosts--the God of armies--the King who executes justice and judgment in the earth, who has sworn vengeance against all unrighteousness and wrong, and will destroy the wicked with the breath of His mouth. You must think of Him as the God of the fatherless and the widow; but you must think of Him, too, as the God of the sailor and the soldier, the God of duty, the God of justice, the God of vengeance, the God to whom your colours were solemnly offered, and His blessing on them prayed for, when they were given to your regiment.

      I know that you would follow those colours into the mouth of the pit, that you would die twice over sooner than let them be taken. Good! but remember, too, that those colours are a sign to you that Christ is with you, ready to give you courage, coolness, and right judgment, in the charge and in the death grapple, just as much as He is with those ministering angels who will nurse and tend your wounds in hospital. God's blessing is on them; but do you never forget that your colours are a sign to you that Christ's blessing is on you. If they do not mean that to you, what was the use of blessing them with prayer? It must have been a lie and a sham. But it is no lie, brave men, and no sham; it is a glorious truth, of which those noble rags, inscribed with noble names of victory, should remind you every day and every hour, that he who fights for Queen and country in a just cause, is fighting not only in the Queen's army, but in Christ's army, and that he shall in no wise lose his reward.

      Are not these brave words for brave soldiers? Well: they are not mine; they are the Bible's. The book of Revelation tells us how St. John saw a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of His everlasting war against wrong, of which I spoke just now. And what did the Lord appear like?

      "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He doth judge and make war. And His eyes were as a flame of fire; and He was clothed in a garment dipped in blood; and His name is called the Word of God. And the armies in heaven followed Him, riding upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that He should smite the nations; and He shall rule them with a rod of iron; and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and of the wrath of almighty God" (Rev. xix. 11).

      Are not these brave words, my friends? Are not these soldier-like words? Is not this a general worth following? Is not this a charge of cavalry worth sharing in? Then believe that that general, the Lord Jesus Christ, is your general. Believe that you are sharing in that everlasting charge, to which the glorious charge of Balaclava was as nothing; the everlasting war which the Lord Jesus wages against all sin, and cruelty, and wrong--in which He will never draw bridle-rein, or sheath His sword, till He has put all enemies under His feet, and swept all oppression, injustice, and wickedness off the face of the earth which God has given Him.

      Therefore I can say to you other brave words, my friends (and not my own, but the words of the same Lord Jesus Christ):--"Fear not them that can kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom you shall fear; fear him who after he has killed has power to destroy both body and soul in hell."

      Now all England knows already that you do not fear those who can kill the body; but I sometimes fear that some of you are not enough afraid of that enemy worst of all, who can kill the soul too. And who is that? St. Paul tells us. He is "the devil, who has the power of death," who lies in ambuscade to destroy your body and soul in hell; and will and can do it; but only if you let him. Now who is the devil? It is worth your while to know; for many a man may be, as you are, in the ranks of God's army, and yet doing the devil's work all the while. Many a man may fancy himself a good soldier, and forget that a soldier is a man, and something more; and that therefore, before you can be a good soldier, you must first be more or less of a good man. Do you think not? Look then, and see whether the most upright and god-fearing men in your ranks are not in the long run the best soldiers. I don't mean merely the best fighters--the bravest men in battle. There goes more than mere bull- dog pluck to the making of a soldier; and to make a good soldier, I hold that a man, though he be afraid of nothing else, must be horribly afraid of the devil, and that the better and braver soldier he is, the more afraid of the devil he will be.

      Of course that depends upon who the devil is. I will tell you. He is what his name means, the accuser and the divider--the evil spirit who sets men against each other--men against officers, and officers against men; who sets men grumbling, puts hard suspicious thoughts into their minds; makes them selfish and forgetful of their duty, tempts them to care only for themselves, and help themselves. You must see that if those tempers once got head in an army, there would be an end of all discipline--of all obedience; and what is more, of all courage; for if the devil could completely persuade every man to care only for himself, the plain thing for every man to do, would be to turn round and run for his life. That you will never do; but you may give way to the devil in lesser matters, and so do God's work ill, and lose your own reward from God. All grumbling, and hard speeches, and tale-bearing is doing the devil's work. All disorder and laziness is doing the devil's work. All cruelty and brutality is doing the devil's work.

      Now as to cruelty and brutality, some soldiers fancy when towns are taken in war, that they may do things for which (to speak the truth) they ought to be hanged. I mean in plain English, ravishing the women, and ill-treating unarmed men, to make them give up their money. Whosoever does these things, God's curse is on him, and his sin will surely find him out. No excuse of being in hot blood will avail him. No excuse of having fought well beforehand will avail him. Such cant will no more excuse him with God than it will with truly noble-minded men. He may have been brave enough before, but he is doing a coward's deed then; he is doing the devil's work, and the devil, and not God, will pay him his wages, to the uttermost farthing. But though I tell you to fear the devil, it is only to fear his getting the command over you. The devil is a liar, and a liar is always a coward. Be brave in God's service. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

      One word more. If any of you are maddened by hearing of the enemy murdering some of your wounded--recollect that revenge is one of the devil's works, of which the brave men cannot be too much afraid. God forbid that you should ever be maddened into imitating such cruelty. Fight the enemy in God's name--and strike home; but never have on your conscience the thought that you struck an unnecessary blow. You are to kill for the sake of victory, but never to kill for the sake of killing. You know who it was who prayed for and excused His own murderers as He hung upon the cross. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." That was the same Lord Jesus who, as I told you, is the great Warrior against all wrong. If He was not ashamed to forgive, do you not be ashamed either. You cannot be more brave than He is; try, at least, to be merciful like Him. Overcome evil with good; by returning good for evil you will not only help England's cause by softening the hearts of your enemies, but you will preach Christ's gospel to them--and in nowise lose your reward.

      Remember then, always, our Lord Jesus Christ is the pattern of a perfect warrior, whether by land or sea; and if you be like Him, and fighting not only on His side, but as He likes to see you fight, that is, righteously and mercifully against the tyrants of the earth--what harm can happen to you? Be sure that whether you live, you will live to Him; or whether you die, you die to Him; that living or dying you will be His; and that He is merciful (the Bible says) in this, that He rewards every man according to his work. Do you your work like men, and be sure that the Lord Jesus Christ will see that you are right well paid, if not in this life, still in that life to come, to which may He bring you and all brave men, who will strive to do their duty in that station of life to which God has called them.

      Footnotes:

      {199} This was written and sent out to the army before Sebastopol in the winter of 1855.

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